By Matt Jenkins
---- — The preseason accolades are already flying at Middleton’s Chris Splinter faster than a runaway wide receiver in the open field.
Yet all Splinter — a senior safety for the Harvard University football team — can think about is capping off his football career with an Ivy League title.
Splinter was named a second team All-Ivy League selection as a defensive back last year, and many college football publications are predicting the former Masconomet star to pick up where he left off.
The individual success is enjoyable for Splinter, but he’s more focused on the one thing that has eluded him so far at Harvard.
“All those things (preseason accolades) are great, but I was just talking to my parents about this, really getting a championship ring is most important,” the 21-year-old Splinter said. “I know last year walking off the field after the Yale game, it was great to win, but there was a bitter taste. This year we have something to make up for and we’re all excited to get things kicked off.”
Last year, Harvard finished 8-2 with losses to Princeton and Penn, and this summer they were picked to finish second in the Ivy League preseason media poll.
Splinter said he and his Crimson teammates will be focused on climbing to the top of the league from the moment they report to camp on Tuesday.
“The two teams we lost to — Penn and Princeton — those teams are already at the top of the league, but every year it’s so competitive,” Splinter said. “There are eight teams and every year any other team seems like it could be in the hunt. Every game is a battle and a challenge. That’s kind of the mindset we look at every game. Nothing is going to come easy, we have to earn every bit.”
Experience is one factor that Splinter feels extremely good about this year, especially in the defensive backfield. The Crimson return nine senior defensive backs.
The offseason effort this summer also has Splinter liking his team’s chances this fall.
“As a team we’ve just finished our summer program in terms of weightlifting. Fifty guys stayed in Boston working out. There’s a lot of excitement and to break it down, we want to play angry,” Splinter said. “We just feel like we have a lot to make up for not winning the Ivy last season. Personally, I’m just going to try to do everything I can to help the team. We have a bunch of great guys on defense, especially in the secondary.”
Splinter may be the best of the bunch, and he’s getting some notoriety.
He was one of 34 Football Championship Subdivision players named to the College Football Performance Award FCS Defensive Back Award watch list. He was also selected to College Sports Madness’ Preseason All-Ivy League first team, and Phil Steele’s Preseason All-Ivy League second team.
Last year he played all 10 games, recorded 15 solo tackles, assisted on 11 more, and had five interceptions and five pass breakups.
Splinter intercepted two passes in a win over Columbia.
“With the interceptions there’s usually some sort of mistake by the quarterback, but I always think about the three balls I dropped,” Splinter said. “I want to make up for those this year.”
Harvard opens its season on Saturday, Sept. 21 at San Diego before kicking off its Ivy League schedule the next week against Brown.
Splinter moved to safety halfway through his sophomore year and has continued to learn about the position, and defense in general, ever since. He’s never felt more ready for a season to begin.
“Every year you try to take steps in a positive direction. This offseason I got the chance to build up some strength. The defense comes second nature now,” Splinter said. “There’s definitely been a learning curve since I came in. The level of complexity from a defensive standpoint is a lot different than Masco. You learn eventually and a lot of older guys helped out.”
Splinter is now one of those older players in a leadership position, the type of player who will help the newcomers find their way.
He can’t believe his time with the Crimson is almost up, but he’s already preparing to live life without football pads on. Even if he got a chance to continue playing after graduation, Splinter doubts he would keep going.
“I think that I’m ready to find a new passion. Football has been great to me. It’s taught me so much about life and getting through obstacles, and it’s also given me so many friendships and brotherhoods,” Splinter, an Engineering Sciences major, said. “I was asked about education through athletics recently and that made me think about football in general. It’s been a great teacher and I’m lucky that I’ve been able to experience the sport at such a high level.”